REVIEW: Carol Marinelli’s SURGEON IN A TUX And Nurse In A Ballgown

Surgeon_In_A_TuxMiss Bates is not a fan of the workplace romance, especially when the power dynamic between hero and heroine is unequal. She’s looking at you boss-and-secretary trope and you, nurse-and-doctor. It’s “ick.” Except there’s Betty Neels and her doctor/nurse hero and heroine and Miss Bates loves those to pieces. The only hard-and-fast rule in romance is never say never. Surgeon In A Tux did not bode well from the get-go and not only because it’s a boss-and-employee set-up: as Head Nurse Lizzie Birch says of her soon-to-be employer and the novel’s hero: “Leo Hunter was a heartbreaker, surgeon to the stars, irredeemable playboy and, as of Monday, he would also be her boss.” Here we go, thought Miss Bates. Everything in Carol Marinelli’s Surgeon In A Tux started out a total turn-off for Miss Bates: stilted writing, lack of development in the relationship between heroine and hero, neither of whom were terribly likeable and appeared to be cut from some 1950s code of ingenue and man-of-the-world, an episodic at best, disjointed at worst, plot, even the smarmy cover was unappealing … well, lo and behold, did Miss Bates make a complete turn-around on this one. It took For Evah, but this is the beauty of the category, folks, you’ll stick with it because you can see light at tunnel’s end; in this case, it was worth it. The last 30% or so was FANTABULOUS. Is it worth reading for the concluding 30%? Miss Bates says, in this case, it is.

“He looked at Leo – so arrogant, so assured, so, despite his insistence otherwise, messed up.” This is how Ethan, hero Leo Hunter’s brother and fellow doctor, sees him … and he’s right. Leo Hunter, London plastic surgeon to celebrities and royalty, is all of those things and more. He’s a commitment-phobe, a man who smooths his way through life avoiding emotional entanglements, focusing on rebuilding the family name (tainted by his father and trampled by his high-living, distant mother). For the first half of this romance novel, this is what we see and know of Leo. If his brother’s opinion is such and his brother purportedly loves him, the reader can’t say much more on his behalf. Leo is charming and distant. Loose, easy, free, a womanizer, his career perpetuates the need for women to stay young, svelte, and forever in pursuit of a public image of physical perfection. Leo’s charm was emphasized, but Miss Bates didn’t read any evidence of it, at least initially. 

“He’d had no idea what to expect from the new head nurse, but it certainly hadn’t been this ball of femininity.” Aside from the ludicrous image of a “ball of femininity,” this is Leo Hunter’s first impression of Lizzie Birch, who’s brought into the exclusive Hunter plastic surgery clinic at the recommendation of his troubled baby brother, Ethan. Lizzie reads like a heroine, at least initially, out of a Betty Neels novel. She’s pretty, efficient, and  has not seen much of the world; she’s careful with her money, but enjoys smart clothes and good chocolate when she can afford them. She’s an only child, overprotected and coddled by her elderly parents, “Lizzie had been wrapped in love by her parents. Supported. Stifled.” Now they’re both in a home, her mother ill with Alzheimer’s; Lizzie carries the burden of their care. She’s not had much experience with men and not much of a chance to remedy that in light of her parents’ present circumstances and the obligation and love she honours. She’s 32 and shelf-hood beckons, until she meets Dr. Suave and Good-Looking, evidence her first impression of him, “Did he have to be so good-looking? So overpowering, so completely male?” So, the Ingenue and the Doctor-Rake … except they don’t interact very much in the first half of the novel and too much time is given to the patients of the clinic, how important it is to look good, feel good, and do expensive work as an essential stop on the road to your perfect, celebrity life. The clinic also helps women who’ve been abused and disfigured: that redeems the ethics all right. But the narrative is still left flat. 

” … he wanted more than that from Lizzie. He actually wanted the conversations, the meals and the moments, getting to know each other. Yet he did not.” The narrative picks up when Leo asks Lizzie to accompany him to a charity ball. The “ball” is to attend a ball! He’s between women and bringing his smart, professional head nurse is a good PR move. It’s strictly business … but it’s not. Work throws them together FINALLY and their interactions, though we really really wait for them, make for some fun reading; witness this exchange as Leo and Lizzie navigate their growing attraction, ” ‘What’s stopping us, Lizzie?’ ‘Your track record,’ she admitted. ‘My job.’ … He had to make things clear. He had to do the ‘I’m a bastard nothing will ever come of it’ talk, right here right now, but she halted him. ‘Leo, I’m thirty-two, I don’t need to hear the warnings.’ ” Whoa, does Lizzie ever come into her own from this point on. The problem, of course, is that it IS an abrupt change of character, for neither rhyme, nor reason. But what the heck: the stultifying narrative needed something, even if it doesn’t make all that much sense. 

“It was the serious bonking time of a new romance, Lizzie told herself. That time when you just can’t bear to be apart. And they used every minute. It was dizzying, enlightening, freeing, and between steamy encounters as they waited for rancour to hit and for both of them to admit to it all being a terrible mistake, sometimes they actually managed to talk.” Now isn’t that a girl who knows her own mind? Who sees the flaws in a relationship clearly and well? Who is without illusions about her playboy boyfriend? As Lizzie goes, so does Leo. His Mr Suave is not as suave as he first appears: he likes Lizzie and he doesn’t quite know what to do with that. Though the love-making is pretty explosive, it’s also flawed. He has to readjust: how refreshing. He misses Lizzie when she visits her parents in Brighton and does so without turning into He-Man possessive: no, he turns into an ass on several occasions, but Lizzie takes him to task. The writing too shifts from stilted to quirky. Suddenly, we have a romance novel that works. Miss Bate isn’t quite sure what’s put her on this path of too little, too late lately, but the late in this case is darn good.

Carol Marinelli’s Surgeon In A Tux offers, for the most part, “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park; however, in light of its last quarter or so, it upgrades to “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.

Carol Marinelli’s Surgeon In A Tux is published by Harlequin Books (Medical Romance line) and has been available since April 1st; you may find it at the usual vendors in the usual formats.

Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin Books for an e-ARC, made available via Netgalley, in exchange for this honest review.

While Miss Bates is not a fan of the workplace romance, she’s a sucker for the medical romance, though she’d like to see the doctor-heroine and nurse-hero. Alas, that romance has yet to be written, as far as she knows. So, hit her with them: what medical romances have you read and loved? Obviously there be many of those in the Betty Neels canon, but feel free to mention as many as you’d like! (And if they include a baby-filled epilogue, even better 😉 )



8 thoughts on “REVIEW: Carol Marinelli’s SURGEON IN A TUX And Nurse In A Ballgown

  1. In my very distant youth I read a ton of doctor/nurse books, many of them set in exotic locations and I remember absolutely nothing(!!) of the dynamics of the relationships. And, quite frankly, I have no desire to track down any of them for a re-read.
    As you know, I am a Neels fan and have read all of her books (some of them many times over). Her stories fall into several dynamics–in her early hospital based books the nurse was an employee of the hospital and the doctor was either an employee or a consultant with hospital privileges. (Think ‘Tulips for Augusta’). So that romance dynamic has nothing of the boss/underling power imbalance.
    In other books the nurse is hired by the doctor to care for a family member (‘Damsel in Green’ is a good example). While the romantic tension may rise, it isn’t fully acted upon until after she is no longer his employee. Indeed, in later Neels books, where the heroine works as a temporary secretary in his private practice office, the doctor goes so far as to replace her before proposing!
    And for an answer to your bonus question–Neels’ ‘Dearest Love’ has a baby epilogue. Usually the reader doesn’t find out about our couples’ children together unless they make a guest appearance in another Betty book.
    I never really got into Harlequin’s Medical line, though I do keep meaning to give them a try. I see you have Jessica’s Read React Review on your blogroll–I know she has read some of the newer Harlequin Medical stories.


    1. It’s not surprising that you so succinctly and clearly delineated what makes the Neels doctor/nurse couples without “ick” factor. She wrote such proper people: not stuck up, or Puritanical; they were quite humorous and tongue-in-cheek, but they conduct themselves so well. And it’s true about Tulips For Augusta, Miss B. did notice how well everything was conducted, with Konstantijn as consultant and Augusta so augustly independent. It was one of the many reasons Miss B. so loved that book.

      Miss Bates is scrambling off to see if she has Dearest Love in the TBR … and, yes, she does … ! 🙂 Neels and a baby epilogue, her reader’s cup runneth over.

      On a final note, Miss B. has read Jessica’s commentary with great interest because she writes so well and with such knowledge, one example:


  2. LOL. The ONLY medical romances I’ve read are Betty Neels. I’m reading a Neels right now (I know, I know. I’m cutting back. Really.) that features a not-so-enigmatic RDD which is a nice change from most of Neels’ other RDDs, called “Discovering Daisy”, and it’s really hitting all the right angsty notes for me. It’s so unusual to get POV from not only Daisy, but also Jules (the RDD), as well as Helene (his fiancée). It’s really setting up the tension nicely.

    But, you know, you’re right. The heroine doctor and hero nurse is a story that needs to be written. Maybe someone with a bigger repertoire of medical romances under their belt knows of such an animal? I’d love to read that one.


    1. Miss Bates kind of delights in your Neels run! Your most recent read, might it be a later Neels? That was one thing that she shifted, no pun intended, in the later books: POV, especially by including the hero’s perspective. Miss B. doesn’t remember where she read that, or it might have very likely been a comment from She -Who-Is-Erudite-On-Neels … Barb (In MD) 😉

      Miss Bates … sigh … would love to read that one too: a hero who’s a nurse, that would be so cool.


      1. You’re right! “Discovering Daisy” was published in 1999, so that would fit with the shift you mentioned. I read a post over at Vacuous Minx shortly after I began my reading journey in Neels-landia in which she notes a shift in latter Neels’ heroines too. (By this time, I was frantically Googling “Betty Neels” to read every scrap of info I could find, scratching my head, and wondering what rock I had been living under at the time to have never crossed reading paths with Ms. Neels before.)

        Take Augusta from “Tulips” for example. She’s a darn good nurse, competent, resourceful, intelligent, respected, and independent. And best of all – employable! I have no doubt that should any unthinkable or dire happenstance occur between her and Konstantijn, she would never have suffered in penury as some of those latter Neels’ heroines would have. She would have been heart-broken but not worrying if she would ever be able to buy another jersey dress. 😉

        Then there’s Cordelia in “Magic in Vienna” (1985) who apparently did well in school, but after dear old dad dies and leaves her in the clutches of evil step-mom, she never receives training/education to prepare her for anything except taking care of her two step-siblings and her two half-siblings. She finally makes her escape via a “governess” position to Eileen, a 12-year old spoiled little girl being foisted on Charles, her uncle, who’s in Vienna under an “eminent physician” exchange between Austria and Britain.

        Charles at one point after his “dawning realization” asks Cordelia what she’d like to do in the future, presumably when this job ends. He asks point-blank about the possibility of her training as a nurse, notes her “O” and “A” levels, and offers to be her reference. Her answer really kind of shocked me. She says: “Oh, no – no, thank you. I don’t think I’d like that”. She refuses even after she struggled to find this one job that got her out of evil step-mom’s clutches! (I think he brought up nursing because she remained level-headed and sensible when his niece suffered an acute appendicitis, and he was trying to get to know her in his own bumbling way.)

        Now, granted she’s had her dawning realization, too, by this time, and her main reason for refusing his offer is because she has to hide her love for him and bumping into him constantly at the hospital would just be too painful. But Jeez Louise. She has NO way to earn a living, a fact that comes back to bite her on the rump later. In the end, I really worried what would happen to Cordelia if Charles decided one day that he wanted a little red sports car and a 22-year old nubile secretary/nurse more than her.

        The other thing I noticed in this one was a rather marked Victorian feel to it. Eileen’s education under Charles’ guidance, in particular, sounded more like a genteel young lady’s instruction of the 1800’s rather than 1985 – painting and drawing class, cookery sessions, and embroidery. Cordelia suggests gym and tennis classes also. But I couldn’t help but wonder: Where’s the math? The science? Here’s yet another young lady who’s intelligent and capable of much more, being groomed in “ladylike” past times instead of being encouraged to pursue her education or to aspire to a profession like, say, a doctor. 🙂 I think with a few costume changes, maybe putting mutton chops on Charles and Voila! A Victorian medical romance is born.

        Even Cordelia’s comical manner of scolding of Charles when he grabs her arm sounded like something from a Victorian penny dreadful: “Let go of me, you – you bookworm. . .” Although, I will admit, as far as insults go, that was funny. And charming. And true. 🙂


        1. This is so true about Neels’ heroines, even the pathetic sniveling ones Miss B. could smack upside the head have a kind of sang-froid when it comes to compromising their principles, or worldview or whatever you’d like to call it. And later, when writers like Crusie and SEP came along and their rallying cry become how-many-ways-can-we-find-to-torment-our-heroine, like really really break her … there’s a movement so far from what we find in the Neels’ heroine. To follow, you have heroines who are cops, robbers, and tough gals all around, but none of them can match Neels for creating a heroine that is all-soft and all-steel.

          On the other hand, Miss B. noticed that too about the 1930s/40s/50s? sensibility, a kind of post-war (II) sensibility that Neels never abandons; heck, at most, the technology never goes beyond a phone and a rotary-dial one at that. Her heroines remind Miss B. of a book for young ladies she poured over when she first went to school: it outlined what every young lady needs in her wardrobe, for example, complete with rain hat, coat, and boots, handkerchiefs too. It was ridiculous, but she took notes … until she noticed it was 1970 and her new teacher wore a fringed leather jacket and the school principal, bless his heart, Mr. Herman, wore sandals and banished our ugly blue tunics with white collars forever.

          That is THE BEST INSULT EVER … “You, you, bookworm!” 🙂


  3. LOL. I think some of Neels’ heroines remind me of me struggling with a whole new world in high school. I went to catholic school prior to 10th grade, and uniforms were required. For girls, this meant a navy blue pinafore, “middle of the knee” skirt length (and the nuns weren’t shy about ripping out hems on skirts judged too short!), white blouse, white knee socks, black or brown shoes. Boys had to wear a white shirt with black tie, black slacks, black shoes. No exceptions, no indulgences, no excuses. It was like living in a different era almost. While a part of me was aware and envious of how “normal” kids dressed/acted at their schools, I still suffered a little culture shock at public school. I loved being able to ditch the uniform, but I almost fell out of my chair on the first day when my history teacher strolled in wearing jeans and a T-shirt, then proceeded to sit tailor-style on top of the desk. It took me a while to acclimate to a more casual, laid-back way of dressing, talking, and interacting with my teachers, but I do fondly remember all those strict nuns in my past. 🙂


    1. Oh, Miss B. loves a teacher-nun story; they’re the best! She grew up in a city that had a line going through it: everything east was French and Catholic; everything west was English and Protestant … until more immigration, which brought such a variety of people. The school system, however, protected by the Canadian Constitution, was either/or Catholic or Protestant (though at this point, thanks to oodles of Irish immigrants, there were English Catholic schools too), so we all learned to trot out the appropriate denominations. Nuns pretty much ran everything: schools, hospitals, etc. Then the 60s came round and the denominations were nominal … hee hee, as hair grew and skirts shrank. Miss Bates remains utterly fascinated by the monastic life, at least from a distance 😉 Did you read FABULOUS post Pamela at Badass Romance wrote about nuns in fiction?


Comments are closed.